There is much fear of Salvia divinorum these days, and many states have already made the plant illegal. What exactly is Salvia dininorum and why have there been laws made against it?

Ethnobotany
     Salvia divinorum, known also as Ska Marķa Pastora, The Diviner's Mint, Diviner's Sage, foglie della pastora, hierba de la pastora, hierba de la virgen, hoja de la pastora ("leaf of the sheperdess"), and many other names. Salvia divinorum is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and is endemic to the Mazatec region of the Sierra Madre Oriental in the Mexican state of Oaxaca (Rätsch 2005). Outside of this area the plant has been cultivated by modern day shamans and ethnobotanist around the world. In nature it occurs in tropical rain and cloud forests at altitudes between 300 and 1,800 meters (Rätsch 2005).

     Salvia divinorum has been used by the people of Oaxaca for many, many years. It has been argued that the plant is the identity of the unknown Aztec hallucinogen, Pipiltzintzintli (Shultes, Hofmann, and Rätsch 2001). The plant is used by the Maztecs of Oaxaca, which they refer to it as hojas de la pastora ("leaves of the sheperdess") and hojas de Marķa Pastora ("leaves of Mary the Sheperdess"), in rituals for divination or healing (Schultes 1972). The plant is used when there is a lack of sacred mushrooms (Psilocybe sp.) or morning glory seeds (Ipomoea violacea). The Mazatec shaman Marķa Sabina said,

"When I am in the time that there are no mushrooms and want to heal someone who is sick, then I must fall back on the leaves of pastora. When you grind them up and eat them, they work just like the nķnos (mushrooms). But, of course, pastora has nowhere near as much power as the mushrooms" (Schultes, Hofmann, and Rätsch 2001).

     The traditional method of using Salvia divinorum is to chew the fresh leaves as a quid, swallowing the juices that form in the mouth. It is also common to crush the leaves on a metate and mix the plant matter into cold water. The mixture is strained and the water is drunk (Schultes 1972).

     The ritual use of Salvia divinorum usually takes place at night in complete darkness and silence. Before the leaves are chewed they are fumigated with copal incense while prayers are spoken and the leaves consecrated (Rätsch 2005). After consuming the leaves the participants lie down and remain as still and silent as possible (Schultes, Hofmann, and Rätsch 2001). The ritual lasts around two hours, after which the shaman will diagnose the illness based on what the participant experienced (Rätsch 2005).

Phytochemistry
     The active constituent of Salvia divinorum is the neoclerodane diterpene salvinorum A (Rätsch 2005). Salvinorin A is regarded as the most potent naturally occurring psychoactive substance. It is active at 150-500 µg (Siebert 1994).

Modern Use in Western Society
     Salvia divinorum, usually abbreviated to just "salvia," has become more known in western cultures in the past decade. It is normally sold in the form of dried leaf, or dried leaf extract. The extracts are the most common form. The extract is placed into a water pipe and smoked. This method of ingestion produces a quicker onset, with a much more intense peak. The duration is drastically shortened however to only a few minutes.      Salvia is not a party drug, nor is it consider recreational by many of its users. Salvinorin A is not addictive. The effects of salvia are often strange and unusual, and the intensity often leads people to never use the herb again. Noted effects of the plant include: becoming objects, visions of two dimensional surroundings, revisiting childhood memories, loss of ego, sensations of motion, laughter, and perception of alternate realities (Siebert 1994).

Thoughts
     Salvia divinorum, like all plants, should not be subject to criminalization. Plants such as Salvia divinorum, fall under the category of entheogens ("divine within"), and are fundamental to the human experience. Unlike the drugs proliferated by giant corporations, governments, and endorsed by medical doctors, psychoactive hallucinogens are not addictive and are not harmful. In America, there are literally millions of children being prescribed powerful synthetic amphetamines. It is common practice to give children daily doses of amphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant. On the "street" amphetamine is called speed and used the same way as methamphetamine. A person taking amphetamine for recreation is "dangerous" but a child taking amphetamine daily, often for many years, is "safe."

     Tobacco and alcohol kill more people than all illegal drugs combined. There is a paradoxical view on drugs in our culture. The "war on drugs" does not affect tobacco or alcohol, in fact the two aren't even considered "drugs" by most people. The government doesn't make certain plants, fungi, or chemicals illegal because they are dangerous to the people who use them, they make these things illegal because they are dangerous to the government itself. These plants open doors and mental pathways, they allow freedom of spirituality and cognitive liberty. They offer alternative ways of living, often in direct contrast to the capitalistic dominator culture of the West. Entheogens offer the participant a chance to view themselves, their culture, their society, and their world in a new light, but this light is being diminished everytime a new aspect of Nature, the Sacred Mother Earth Goddess, is made illegal.

     
Sources:
Rätsch, C. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.
Siebert, D. J. 1994. Salvia divinorum and salvinorin A: New pharmacologic findings. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 43:53-56.
Schultes, R. E. (1972). An overview of hallucinogens in the western hemisphere. In P. T. Furst (Ed.), Flesh of the Gods: The Ritual Use of Hallucinogens (pp. 3-54). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.
Schultes, R. E., Hofmann, A., & Rätsch, C. (2001). Plants of the Gods: Origins of Hallucinogenic Use. Maidenhead, England: McGraw-Hill.